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‘Light in darkness': Jewish community adapts for pandemic-hit Hanukkah

Socially distanced menorah lightings and activity boxes are the reality in 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic means Hanukkah celebrations will look very different this year but the message behind the Jewish festival remains “exactly the same”, a rabbi has said.

Hanukkah – known as the festival of lights – is an eight-day celebration involving food, prayer and the lighting of a menorah.

This year it runs from December 10-18.

Usually the celebrations involve gatherings with family friends, but people such as Rabbi Mendy Korer – co-chief executive at Chabad Islington in north London – have been forced to change their plans this year to accommodate social distancing.

Rabbi Mendy Korer talking on stage at a previous Islington menorah lighting
Rabbi Mendy Korer talking on stage at a previous Islington menorah lighting (Chabad Islington)

“On a communal level, we’re usually organising the big festival on Islington Green,” he told the PA news agency.

“We (would) have 700-odd people there every year with a programme, activities, crafts, challenges, musical entertainment. I can’t do any of that.”

Rabbi Korer said he had been working “very closely” with the council and local health teams to organise a Covid-friendly menorah lighting with “restricted, limited numbers, non-amplified sounds and no installations”.

To avoid overcrowding, attendees of this menorah lighting will only be given the address once their place is reserved, while face masks are a condition of entry.

A previous Islington menorah lighting shows how many people usually attend the event
A previous Islington menorah lighting shows how many people usually attend the event (Chabad Islington)

The celebration will include less entertainment than in previous years, as well as fewer people and no stage, although singing and food will remain a part of the event.

Across the UK, Jews are making various other changes to accommodate the rules.

One synagogue in Manchester is hosting nightly Zoom calls where candles will be lit, while health and social care provider Jewish Care has launched a Hanukkah appeal to help support the elderly in the community.

Rabbi Korer meanwhile has been working with organisations such as the Barbican to create activity packs for people to open every day, blending science, religion and art with crafts such as home-made candles.

Around 250 of the boxes have been prepared and will be delivered free of charge to members of the community.

A Hanukkah care package, designed to help people celebrate at home with challenges and activities
A Hanukkah care package, designed to help people celebrate at home with challenges and activities (Chabad Islington)

“Each day there will be a challenge or activity for them for eight days,” said Rabbi Korer.

“I guess there is an underlying message in this box of finding partnerships across different genres.

“The message and the idea of what Hanukkah celebrates is exactly the same. The underlying theme of Hanukkah is survival through all types of ordeal – light in darkness.”

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